Two Thomson-McDuffie Junior High students were among the nearly two million people who witnessed firsthand the inauguration of the nation's 44th president, Barack Obama.
"It was amazing how many people came out, because it was so cold and it was windy. ... It felt like a once in a lifetime experience. I felt like there was so many other people who'd like to have been there. I thought, €˜I'm only 15,' you know, and there's people way older than me who wanted to be there. And to think that I was standing there, watching Obama being inaugurated," Falon Sellers, a ninth grader, said in a telephone interview Tuesday with The Mirror.
Falon and her classmate, Amanda Newsome, were in Washington D.C. as members of the Presidential Youth Inaugural Conference. They were eligible to attend because they are both alumni of the Congressional Youth Leadership Council and the National Youth Leadership Forum.
"We were spread out over 62 hotels in the area, with 7,500 students," Falon said.
During their four-day visit to the nation's capitol, Falon and Amanda visited the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian Native American Museum, the Nationals Baseball Stadium, the Newseum, went on a river cruise, watched a performance of American history by a Reduced Shakespeare Company and a performance of political satire by Capitol Steps.
"We were only in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History for one hour, and I couldn't take everything in," Falon said. "It was four stories high, and I wished we'd had longer to be there."
The students also heard from and interacted with five keynote speakers - author and Pulitzer Prize winner Doris Kearns, television journalist and National Geographic Explorer host Lisa Ling, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former Vice President and Nobel Peace Prize winners Al Gore and Desmond Tutu.
"Desmond Tutu was amazing," Falon said. "He said the youth today are the future of our country, and he thinks the world is in good hands. He told us that we have gifts to give the world."
But Falon said she learned the biggest lessons of all from the people in the crowd around her at the inauguration. While they waited, she said people were yelling and cheering. She said she was disappointed to hear many in the crowd booing Former President George Bush.
"I was like, why couldn't they at least be respectful, even if they didn't like him?" she said.
Falon was touched by people crying when the President took his oath. She noticed mothers directing their young children's attention to the big screen.
"And you could tell it was a big step in history to have an African American man in there," she said.
See next week's McDuffie Mirror for more of what Amanda and Falon learned on their trip to Washington D.C.
In her own words
McDuffie County's Falon Sellers reflects on her experience during Tuesday's inauguration of America's 44th President:
"One African American woman actually said, €˜After 200 years, it's finally come our time,' and I hadn't thought about it like that. I thought about it, that it just showed how much in America our thoughts and our way of life has changed. Like 20 years ago, you wouldn't have thought of an African American man running for office, much less becoming the new President of America. It just shows how we've gotten over most of our differences in culture and racism, and the different views of people. That was like really inspiring. Because if America has changed that much, who knows what's going to be next, you know?"